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Cold brew coffee comes in hot

The “third wave” of coffee—an era of artisan roasters and independent coffee shops spotlighting coffee pedigrees and roasting styles, grinds and techniques for extracting optimal flavor—has inspired several new trends influencing foodservice today, such as the pour-over, a new appreciation for the French press and cold brew-style coffee.

iced coffee

Cold brew in particular has caught fire, with coffee giants like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts adding it to their menus in the last two years, in large part because of growing consumer demand. Twenty-two percent of consumers say they would consider ordering cold-brew coffee from foodservice locations, according to Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trend Report. That figure jumps to 30% for those aged 25-34.

Coffee drinkers like the smooth, less-acidic character that coffee takes on with this technique. As its name would suggest, cold brew coffee is brewed with cool water, reducing the potential for acidic, bitter tasting compounds sometimes found in traditional hot coffee.1 What’s more, the need to balance that bitterness with cream, milk and sugar disappears, creating a cleaner and potentially lower-calorie drink.

Without those compounds fighting for the taste buds’ attention, a distinct coffee flavor, depending on the source of the beans, emerges. Also, because it’s not sitting on a warmer, the flavor remains stable.2

Techniques and gadgets for making cold-brew coffee are all over the map, but essentially they involve a similar process: adding ground beans to tepid water, letting it steep at room temperature, then filtering it.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Zingerman’s Coffee Company serves cold brew at the parent company’s stores and restaurants. For the company, which also rolled out a wholesale product last year, cold brew starts with “great beans roasted with great care,” says Steve Mangigian, president.

“Since coffees from different origins taste different, you need to experiment with different ones to dial in the flavor profile you are seeking,” he adds. Zingerman’s selects single-origin beans from South America and New Guinea for the body, finish and flavor they lend to the resulting product. The beans are ground coarsely, then steeped for 16-24 hours.

Because heat is not present to help extract flavor from the beans, cold brew requires a higher concentration of ground coffee per cup. A typical formula calls for a 4:3 water-to-coffee ratio (4 pounds of coffee to 3 gallons of water) to make a concentrate. The concentrate is then diluted for use in iced coffees and other drinks.

Because cold brew is such a simple product—coffee and water—the water matters a great deal, too—perhaps even more than in traditional brewing techniques. Some coffee experts like harder water, which includes metal ions that pull more flavor into the coffee as it brews.

STOK takes care of the cold brew process so operators can easily give consumers the cold brew coffee they want. Reach out to STOK here.


  1. “Complexity of coffee flavor: A compositional and sensory perspective,” Food Research International, March 2014.
  2. “How cold brew changed the coffee business,” New York Times, June 7, 2017.

This post is sponsored by Danone Away From Home

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